Slavery or Sacrifice? Risk Your Life at a Job Infected with the Virus or Lose your Income

This is the choice many workers are being forced to make: Risk getting sick or lose your income.

 

This is especially stark at meat processing plants, where the workers usual salary is just enough to get by week-to-week and many of the workers are relatively recent immigrants. Now DT is saying he will sign an executive order under the Defense Production Act to stop closures of meat processing plants by declaring them “critical infrastructure.” He will force the employees at these plants to go to work despite dangerous conditions. Is this action initiating a form of slavery? Is he sacrificing American workers to fit his own political purposes?

 

Workers at many of these plants have, for over a month, been scared to go to work, but they did so because they had little choice. And now, under DT’s executive order, if they choose not to work, they will neither get a paycheck nor be allowed to collect unemployment.

 

This is not just true of workers in meat processing plants. It is true in Iowa where the Governor wants to gradually open up all businesses, despite continued spread of the virus. If people refuse to go to work, due to fears of getting sick, they will lose their unemployment insurance. To make this even more blatant, Mitch McConnell said he has drawn a “red line” regarding the next coronavirus bill: no more relief from Congress for infected people, medical supplies, or businesses unless the businesses he forces to open are protected from liability claims. He knows he is putting lives at risk but he either doesn’t care or is willing to sacrifice them.

 

Rachel Maddow interviewed former OSHA policy advisor Debbie Berkowitz about the situation at the meat processing plants. Berkowitz said the administration is claiming we have only one choice: safety for workers or a break down in the US food supply. This, she says, is a false choice. The claim that we must either “feed America or keep Americans safe” is a false choice that exposes “government malfeasance.”

 

DT wants to force these plants to resume business in order to resurrect a crumbling economy, protect his power, and preserve profits for his supporters. Likewise, Rachel Maddow revealed that the situation was made worse than it had to be by the DT administration. When the CDC inspected the plants and found violations, instead of doing what it usually does, and issue required changes in the way the plants operated, they issued suggestions. Is this because DT’s Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia decided he would not make the health guidelines for meatpacking plants mandatory and would not enforce the changes in the plants the CDC laid out back in March, and again just recently? The result? 1700 people have died in different meat processing plants, and the virus is spreading through the local communities.

 

In Black Hawk County, Iowa, the Sheriff spoke of his fears ⎼ not only that the coronavirus will continue to spread through the Tyson meat processing plant, but spread throughout the population of his city. He said the “hole is blown in the front line of defense” against the virus.

 

In order to open the plants, significantly more testing will be required. Vice President Pence said that, after large outbreaks in plants in Greeley, Colorado, he would “flow” testing to those plants. It has not happened. Could there be even more positive cases at that plant? Nobody knows. The testing never happened and is not happening now, despite the plant being given a public health order telling them to test every employee.

 

Since the crisis began, it is not clear why DT has not pushed for more testing. Is it incompetence, malevolence, corruption, or maybe a fear of what the numbers might reveal? Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said that the “lack of testing,” not just for meat packing plants but for the general population, is “probably the number one problem in America and has been from the beginning of this crisis.” He added that the White House’s happy talk “is just absolutely false.”

 

Some might imagine they are not affected by these actions. They might think this is just happening in red states or in Iowa, Colorado, or South Dakota, or just those with meat processing plants. These plants exist in many states, largely along the east coast and Midwest.

 

How about the air we breathe? That affects everyone. Since the DT EPA reduced air quality standards, air pollutants in places like Houston’s heavily industrialized areas have surged as much as 62%. Residents have said “we don’t even know what we’re breathing.” “They are basically killing us.” But this danger is affecting people of color disproportionately, who live closest to affected areas.

 

And this list of how DT threatens the great majority of Americans could go on almost indefinitely. DT has rolled back protections on our drinking water, undermined our ability to face this crisis, undermining our right to vote, our jobs, etc. We must not allow this to go on.

 

This post was partly inspired by a conversation on FB and partly by a Rachel Maddow program.  Maddow reported on the CDC not closing or enforcing its guidelines at any meatpacking plant but the one in Sioux City owned by Smithfield. This plant was closed because one female worker sued the plant, not to get money, but to compel the owners of the plant to adequately protect its workers. We can take action. When we do research, share information, and show compassion, we can energize ourselves and inspire others to act.

 

On Tuesday, 4/21, a bill to require OSHA safety standards be enforced was introduced in the U. S. House of Representatives and 34 Senators sent a letter to DT objecting to the lack of protections at the meat processing plants. We need to pressure Congress to get this passed. This is one action we can take this week. We need to do what we can to protect each other from this president.

 

Whether it be joining other people, with signs on cars, to protest on Friday, May Day, or on any other day, calling Congress, or writing letters. We must do what we can to stop DT from ending the stay-at-home orders too soon and sacrificing people to serve his power and profit.

Are We All in this Together? Sketches of A Future Drawn in the Present

I wish I had at least a vague idea of what the future could look like in a year, or even a month, but I don’t. When the world is threatened, the urge to know can become overwhelming. Usually, we at least know what the usual is. But now, for many of us, aside from what the inside of our homes looks like, we don’t even know that. Too many changes.

 

Every 10 days or so I drive into town. The roads and buildings are the same as before the pandemic, and I imagine once this crisis is over, we can simply return to our “normal” lives.

 

But then I notice all the restaurants and stores with closed signs. I hear on the radio that news outlets have been losing so many workers (except Fox) they can barely function. Accurate news reporting could be threatened. Or, on the positive side, NPR reported that pharmacy companies, previously known for putting CEO and shareholder profits above everything else, are joining together to find vaccines and treatments for the virus.

 

One prediction I can make is that more people in the future will want to become doctors, nurses and other first responders, the heroes of this time.

 

What I mainly have are questions. On the tv and radio, in advertisements and public service announcements, the meme “we are all in this together” keeps getting repeated. It is a sentiment I agree with and one that has become a powerful force for creating pressure to improve our overall health care system and for legislation to protect most Americans, not just the rich and corporations, from the harmful consequences of the pandemic.

 

It expresses a dynamic truth. With an illness that is so destructive, that can be deadly and spread so easily, with many people infected but showing no symptoms ⎼ anyone can get it, even the powerful, rich, and famous. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of Britain, got the illness and wound up in the ICU. Many celebrities, athletes, politicians have been infected. Too many have died. Over 158,000 people worldwide have died so far from it.

 

So if anyone can get it, we are all in this together.

 

But some are more likely than others. The poor more than the rich. The people who work in the fields or production plants and can’t stop working, either because their job is too essential or they can’t afford to stop. For example, one of the Smithfield food processing plants was closed only after the mayor of Sioux Falls forced them to. 350 of its workers had tested positive for the virus. The pandemic is exposing social inequities that have existed for years and have been getting worse. The racism. The poverty. These have always threatened people’s lives and they are doing so now….

 

To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

Even If We Don’t Get Sick, We Can Feel Sickened by the Crisis: Remembering A Better Future is Possible

Last night, I woke up at 4:50 am. It was dark, no moon was visible, and I felt very tired. All I wanted to do was go back to sleep. But images I had seen on tv of an overcrowded New York City hospital started to play in my mind and I felt a roughness in the back of my throat. I wondered if that roughness meant I was just getting a sore throat or was it the first sign of the coronavirus.

 

I began to think about the one day in the last week I had left home to pick up vitamins and groceries and to worry if my attention might have gone lax, or if I had done something stupid that exposed me to the virus. Even if we don’t get sick, the crisis can make us feel sick.

 

So I went downstairs to the kitchen, closed the door so my wife wouldn’t be disturbed, and gargled. That helped. Then to the living room, to turn on a reading lamp, and sit in our recliner. Reading a novel was an option, but my eyes wouldn’t stay open.  So I closed them, took two gentle breaths, and started to change my mental channels to focus on something more calming.

 

I pictured my own smile (you could also use the smile of someone you care about) and placed it in front of me. That felt good. I pictured it on my face ⎼ pictured me smiling. I turned it into a smile meditation. But it was too dark, and I was too tired to see it well. I tried to add some white, healing light, and move it to my throat, where I had felt the soreness. But the night was like a black hole and absorbed all the mental light I could create.

 

So then I decided to experiment, to see what would give me comfort and let me sleep. I thought of my blogs, and the comfort or beauty and sense of their own strength people said they found in them. The image of my students came to mind. If I got sick or died, they would have to find someone else to teach them. That revived me. Compassion for others replaced worrying over myself….

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

A Tree’s Sense of Time, A Human’s Sense of Agency

I’m looking out my window at the trees in the yard, an apple, oak and cherry. Today, it’s raining so they look more grey than brown. I feel a sense of gratitude that they’re there, to shield the house from heavy winds, to block the sunlight on hot days, to provide fruit. I admire their beauty.

 

And I wonder, if a tree could sense time, what would that sense of time be? Think about how different time would be for a tree, or a snail for that matter. They both move at so much slower or different a pace than we humans do, and their world, for so many reasons, is so different. They’d miss and be totally unable to concern themselves with almost anything we concern ourselves with, yet they’d notice changes, elements of the world we are blind to.

 

As we speed up or slow down time, like speeding up or slowing down a video, we change how we see the world or the pace at which everything appears. Time is, after all, the rate of change.

 

Lately, my sense of time has frequently been warped. Right now, I can see the rain falling. I can’t see the wind, but I can see how it bends and shakes the limbs of trees and bushes, and how it affects the flight of birds. And I hear it. Oh, how I hear it, all around me, pulling at my attention.

 

And I can remember how different it was yesterday, when it was sunny, in the 60s, quiet, and I felt so calm.

 

And then I turn on the news. The pace at which my inner body moves speeds up. Even if we’re isolated at home, time speeds up. Worries about the coronavirus and how it is affecting family and friends, affecting our sense of security, are like the wind blowing, bending our limbs.

 

And then the political chaos turns the wind into a hurricane….

 

*To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.

Lies Are Killing People: Lies and Caring Only for One’s Own Power

On Thursday, 4/2, Ari Melber, on his MSNBC program, interviewed Kirsten Gillibrand and later talked with Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel and others. I greatly appreciated Senator Gillibrand saying “we need truthtellers now.” And Dr. Emanuel continuing with this theme, saying we have to pay attention to facts. Lies are killing people.

 

The Coronavirus is making it abundantly clear what half of the population of the US already knew—not only that DT lies, constantly. Not only does he do so to serve his own self-interest or express his ignorance. But these lies are dangerous. They can and are, right now, killing people. We have to combat the lies, distortions, fake news in order to save not only ourselves but the lives of all those we care about.

 

Likewise, earlier in the week Senator Chris Coons (D, Delaware), and on Friday, Rachel Maddow, talked about the fact that DT, just like George Bush with Katrina, and most of the “reduce government” GOP, feel it is not their job to save lives in a crisis, not their job to organize the manufacture and supply of medical equipment or relief aid.

 

In fact, according to CNN and recordings of the “news conference,” on Thursday, 4/2, DT’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is now in charge of the coronavirus relief effort, chastised governors for asking the Federal Government to send the medical supplies in its stockpiles to the cities and states that desperately need them. At one point, Kushner even said that the federal stockpile of emergency medical supplies is not meant for the states. “It’s supposed to be our stockpile.” The CNN article questioned who did Kushner mean by “our?” I wonder. Did he mean the Trump family? Or the Federal government? If he meant the latter, the Federal Government, clearly that would mean the people of this nation who need them, right? If he meant the former, he shouldn’t be in charge of anything in the government.

 

But maybe the Trump family is exactly what he meant. Kushner’s father-in-law told Vice President Pence to ignore the calls for aid by Governors who did not show appreciation for him. Some states, like Florida, led by devotees of DT, got all the aid they asked for, and quickly. Others still haven’t seen all or any equipment. Meanwhile, DT outbid Governors for needed supplies.

 

Since he became President, DT ignored warnings of a possible pandemic and ignored warnings about this pandemic. He cut funds for the CDC, NSC, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services to fight global diseases and dismantled the White House team in charge of global health security.

 

According to the New York Times, he has invoked the Defense Production Act hundreds of thousands of times to help the military.  But now, when so many lives are at stake, he won’t actually use it. There is no rational reason for this behavior except that he doesn’t think it is in the best interests of corporations to use this power, or he thinks it is not in his best interest to end the crisis quickly, and not his job to serve the best interests of most of the people of this nation. This is one aspect of what “smaller government” means to him and to many in the GOP.

 

It is not just that DT is totally unsuited for the Presidency but that he will use anything, even a pandemic, as a means to serve his own ends, even if those means end up sacrificing the nation.

 

We need to get or stay healthy, and when we can, make calls, write letters, put up signs, do everything we can not only to vote but to get others out to vote in November, and secure mail-in ballots for all. As we can now see, our lives might depend on it.

 

*This post was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

Speaking with the Medicine Buddha

I was reading an article by David Michie, in a September, 2018 “Lion’s Roar” magazine, about “How to Invoke the Medicine Buddha,” and I immediately did the practice. In this time of threat and anxiety, it was just what I needed.  It reminded me of healing visualizations and meditations I had done in the past and found helpful and enjoyable.

 

And afterwards, I wanted to invoke this Buddha for all of us. I wanted to stand before him and talk directly with him ⎼ or allow him to speak directly through me. I wanted the Medicine Buddha to speak to our nation, to help us all heal, heal our neighbors, this country, this world. We need so much medicine nowadays, medical supplies, an anti-coronavirus vaccine. An anti-ignorance vaccine. A pro-compassion vaccine.

 

Today we are seeing what society looks like when the whole is greatly stressed. I remember looking at paintings of the plague in the Middle Ages. And I look around me. The sky is still the sky. The birds still call. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes the sun shines. It doesn’t look like the plague. Unless, maybe, you go to some city hospitals and see the freezer trucks they are using to store the dead. Not quite a horse driven wagon full of bodies, not the “Black Death,” thanks to modern science, but there are comparisons.

 

But as each level of our society is stressed, it is the small things that hold us together. It certainly isn’t our deluded leader, not the supposed head of the Federal government. Many state or local leaders are being helpful, and certainly first responders, doctors and nurses are risking their lives for others. Retired and other health care workers are volunteering to work in overstressed hospitals to care for patients. Cashiers and the people who stock the shelves in the grocery store. Individual people as well as the systems they maintain. It is our families and friends. Relationships. Even though we are all isolated, or maybe because of it, we are more sensitive to relationships…..

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.